It is not just adults who can have a panic attack, kids can experience it too. Panic attacks can have a serious impact on a child’s life, from relationships to their overall development. It is crucial for parents therefore to identify the signs of a panic attack in kids and help them cope with it.
What is a panic attack? What are the signs?
Niharika Mehta, psychologist, Hiranandani Hospital Vashi, talked to Express Parenting about the common symptoms of panic attacks in kids and the ways to treat it.
“A panic attack starts with stress. Extreme stress and anxiety can lead to an episode, which could last between five and 20 minutes. The symptoms usually subside thereafter,” explained Mehta.
The common signs of panic attack are chest pain, breathlessness, nausea, sweating, dizziness, losing control. Kids experiencing panic attack won’t be able to verbalise it. They may be very restless or complain of chest pain or stomach pain.
What causes a panic attack?
A panic attack in children is most commonly seen among those above five to seven years of age. Any signs earlier than that are rare unless there is some medical condition.
For a child, a panic attack could be triggered by an unknown situation or person or anything that is causing stress or anxiety. For instance, you can commonly see a child feeling stressed when they go to school for the first time where they are separated from an attachment figure, usually the parent, and enter an unknown environment, which is anxiety inducing.
How parents can help
Parents can help their child in two steps, during a panic attack and after the episode.
1. While the child is having a panic attack, it won’t really help to negate what they are feeling or instruct them to do something to cope with it. They will experience high levels of anxiety and won’t be able to execute anything properly. This can further increase their anxiety.
2. Speak to the child in a calm voice and tell them you are there to support them.
3. Point out the symptoms to the child so they have a label for it. For instance, explain to them that they are feeling shortness of breath because of a panic attack which will go away very soon. This will give them a sense of control over the situation.
4. Ask your child to take deep breaths when there is an attack.
5. Once you have tackled the episode, figure out the warning signs and triggers for your child like a particular situation or an activity that is causing panic attack if there are episodes.
6. For further treatment, parents can consult a psychologist or psychiatrist who can advise on the coping mechanism and provide medication if necessary.